NEWS Phillies bolster rotation with Taijuan Walker, make their mark in winter meeting

The Athletic

SAN DIEGO — Less than four hours after Dave Dombrowski lounged on a sofa on the seventh floor of the Grand Hyatt in Manchester and said, “I can’t say we’ve made any progress in finding a mid-round starter,” The Phillies agreed in principle to acquire Taijuan Walker for four years and $72 million. The seasoned executive wasn’t cheating. According to major league sources, the agreement was reached quickly.

While talks with Walker progressed Tuesday night, the Phillies reached a deal with left-handed pitcher Matt Strahm. So, it’s official. These are the Phillies’ winter meetings, and during a two-day frenzy, the defending National League champions announced they’re serious about capitalizing on the momentum of their magical playoff run — and there’s no time to worry about efficiency.

They invested $372 million to meet their two biggest needs. They’re the financial juggernaut in a stacked NL East that has three teams with World Series aspirations and the ability to spend like that. Their taste of postseason baseball at Citizens Bank Park was intoxicating, especially for those who signed their paychecks.

The Phillies were expensive underdogs in October. A lot has changed since then.

The Phillies committed $300 million to Trea Turner on Monday and $72 million to Taijuan Walker on Tuesday. (Macio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Earlier Tuesday, Phillies manager Rob Thomson answered questions in a small ballroom ahead of their game against Walker. There’s still offseason work to be done in the front office — some midlevel replacements to follow — but the Phillies now have a pretty good idea of ​​the 2023 roster. Thomson has begun to think about how to set the right tone in Florida.

“There are some things I want to talk about in spring training,” Thomson said. “One is the expectations – high expectations – and that’s a good thing because it means you’re probably really good and you have to deal with that.”

Expectations hadn’t been higher since 2011, when the Big Four Aces were supposed to have another strong October. It took ten years to recover from the disappointment. Now, in 2023, the Phillies will field one of the best rosters in club history. The prize goes to one of the sport’s most exciting players, Trea Turner.

But Walker is just as important. The Phillies need innings. They’re not shopping at the top of the rotation market, and after surrendering two draft picks to sign Turner, they’re reluctant to do so again for a mid-round pitcher. They value innings and reliability. So, that led them to Walker. He was one of only 26 pitchers to throw at least 150 innings each of the past two seasons. The threshold for transaction volume is getting lower and lower every year. Walker, who turns 31 in August, has been in that situation since he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018.

His agent, Scott Boras, hasn’t forgotten that.

“You can see in the market that there are a lot of pitchers throwing 60 and 70 innings … the threshold is about $13 (million) to $15 million a year because there’s so much demand for quality pitching,” Boras said. said Tuesday morning before Walker signed. “As a result, Day, at 30, is one of the younger players but also one of the more durable players, and we expect he will be in high demand as his market unfolds.”

The Mets didn’t make a qualifying offer for Walker, who is a better-than-league starter in 2022. This helped his market. The Phillies paid a price for certainty, and while Walker may not be like the mainstay of the past, he represents one of the closest things to a mainstay in this free agency.

Walker rotates with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez. The Phillies will reserve the fifth spot for a group of young pitchers. Inside the organization, there’s a strong belief that Andrew Painter can earn a rotation spot in spring training. The 19-year-old Painter is one of the most promising pitchers in baseball. The Phillies approached him with an unusual level of aggression because they thought he was good and he could handle it.

But he won’t be throwing 200 or even 160 innings in the majors next season. If he leaves the Phillies, he won’t start 32 times. The team has considered different solutions to accommodate him. They like up-and-coming Mick Abell, another former first-round pick, and Griff McGarry. All three could be considered for rotation planning this season.

“But,” Thomson said, “we’re looking at people who might be on the list after the spring are painters.”

Thomson didn’t see him pitch. Did he start asking people about prospects?

“We didn’t even have to ask,” Thomson said. “They just tell you how great the guy is, and the makeup, the intangibles, the athleticism, all that stuff. I’ve been watching some tape, and it’s real.”

Andrew Painter can get a major league team out of spring training. (Four seam images courtesy of Mike Janes/AP)

The Phillies also like Bailey Falter, who they could potentially use to manage Painter’s load. Various rotation arrangements have been discussed by the club. Painter made 22 starts in the minors last season, pitching 103 2/3 innings.

“So, jumping to 200 innings, that’s a bit much,” Dombrowski said Tuesday. “But I think you can start a series of games depending on what happens. You get the All-Star Game, you get through those days. You get off work, you get off work through them. If you want to do that, you can use a sixth starter. All of these things are possible.”

The six-man rotation could also serve as a cushion for Wheeler, Nola and Suarez to compensate for their larger workloads in 2022. In fact, the Phillies have at least eight viable rotation options — experienced and inexperienced — at the best depth they have long-term.

There isn’t much to do this winter. Dombrowski wants to sign more mid-level replacements. The market is full of them; the Phillies can wait a little longer before throwing the dart.

Matt Strahm had a 3.83 ERA in 50 appearances last season. (Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY)

They allocated a sizable portion of their bullpen budget to Strahm, the 31-year-old lefty who is in his first full season in the bullpen in 2022 and has a slightly higher average fastball velocity. He agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract, according to a major league source. Strahm is the rare reliever to use five different pitches, and the Phillies could improve on his repertoire. He has better numbers against righties in 2022; the Phillies could still look for a third lefty in the bullpen to pair with Strahm and Jose Alvarado.

On Thursday, the Phillies will bring Turner the No. 7 jersey at Citizens Bank Park. Soon after, they will host another event for Walker. The lineup is set. The rotation is coming — spring training will be an interesting time for the organization’s young starters.

“There’s always a way to be creative,” Dombrowski said.

So far, the Phillies haven’t needed a creative approach this offseason. They made precise and powerful attacks. During their two days here, they announced their visit with an exclamation point.

(Taijuan Walker above: Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY)

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